Peggle and Bejeweled collectively represent the breakthrough of PopCap games. This alone would make them “games of the decade”, given the level of ubiquity that PopCap has managed to achieve in the time since Bejeweled first appeared in 2001, but there’s so much more to them that they may well be the games that most represent the decade that may yet be known as the “aughts”.
Bejeweled long held a revered place in the hearts of browser-gamers as PopCap’s shining star, with gameplay that was almost too simple to be believed and a play style that was as much dumb luck as it was strategy — sure, those who played it more would generally get better scores than those playing it for the first time, but the possibility always exists for one of those nigh-endless combos that just racks up the points in a moment of blind luck.
Pushing Bejeweled into the casual stratosphere is the iteration that currently resides on Facebook, the insidiously addictive Bejeweled Blitz. Chris Donlan at Edge Magazine put it wonderfully in his recent writeup of Bejeweled Blitz:
[Bejeweled Blitz] advertises itself as a high-score rush, each game built to last exactly one minute — plus the Last Hurrah section in which any remaining unmatched special gems explode lavishly — suggesting you can probably get in a round before loading up Excel or checking the cricket scores.
That’s a total lie, of course. Blitz doesn’t take a minute to play — it takes a minute to play once, but that first go is always just theatre.
That’s exactly it — it takes a minute to play, but you could sit there and kill an hour easy trying to surpass the next person on your Facebook leaderboard, or trying to surpass 400,000 points, or trying to score 100,000 points for the 250th time, thus rendering that particular landmark “gold” on your stats page. Facebook is the perfect platform for casual games, and Blitz is the most perfect integration of casual gaming with social media to date. And yes, I’m including Mafia Wars and frigging Farmville in that discussion, if only because their constant updates drove me utterly bonkers until I figured out how to turn them off.
Peggle broke through in a completely different way: by appealing to so-called “hardcore” gamers while never sacrificing its casual appeal. Over the last year or so, you could find Peggle on just about every format imaginable — Xbox 360, PS3, iPhone, DS, and, of course, PC — and ever so slowly, people whose typical gaming diet consisted of things like Dragon Age, or Resident Evil, or even Guitar Hero (hi!) were confessing their addiction to Peggle. Any game that can have you playing against someone who has never played before (during which the newbie wins about half the time) one minute and struggling against some of the most wicked challenges ever put to digital media the next, all the while never allowing for complaints of “random shots” or “dumb luck” is something special indeed.
Only recently, I’ve blown the metaphorical dust off the Xbox Live Arcade version, trying to beat all 75 of the ridiculous challenges for the sake of 25 measly GamerScore points. Clearly, a Peggle addiction is one that may lie dormant for months at a time, but never disappears completely.
Together, Bejeweled and Peggle are proof that the rise of casual gaming does not signal the coming of the gaming apocalypse; or, if they do, we’ll be too busy trying to best our own scores as to not see it coming.